It'd be very typical to start a story about semi-lost/rediscovered photos of the Doors—taken the week before "Light My Fire" hit No. 1—with a litany of all the things we didn't have yet, and then lead that list with "no moon landing, no President Nixon and no anything-gate."
But what's perhaps most surprising about Long Beach photographer Jim Coke's latest exhumation of examples from his classic series of Doors photos, "Prime Mover: Jim Morrison Performing, July 15, 1967," on now at J. Moore Gallery in Seal Beach, is how much those weasels in the front row—and the ones behind them, and the band, and the cops—all look like us.
Not much is different today, except how we now come to shows like these with preconceived ideas of what we think the past was—making it imperative to take a second look and break through your own stereotypes. Break on through. (Sorry.)
At "Prime Mover," that second look will cost you 10, maybe 15 minutes if you dawdle; J. Moore is a small gallery that doubles as a frame shop—and in 1967, Coke was a USC student with a borrowed Nikon and barely enough money for film.
"There weren't a lot [of pictures]," says Coke, a 1965 Millikan High graduate who moved back to Long Beach in the late 1980s. "We were broke so we didn't shoot a lot." He did shoot enough shows that year—a Be-In in Griffith Park; a poetry reading by Allen Ginsberg; the Monterey Pop Festival—that he's considering the possibility of a book on the year 1967—but when Coke moved up north to attend UC Berkeley, he left his two 36-frame rolls of Doors negatives in his parents' garage. Then the roof leaked on them and . . . no, it didn't. Coke moved back down here in 1986 and found his negs still pristine: two black-and-white rolls and a few color slide film frames. Around 20 are reprinted here, including a series of cut-outs of Morrison boogieing as he sings, in new slim-fit leather jeans with slit ankles and a worn T-shirt that sometimes gapes at the belly. He'd be right in style today, unlike the rest of the band.
"They look very Carnaby Street," Coke says, referencing the legendary London shopping district/Mod hang-out—and it's true. Guitarist Robby Krieger wears high-waisted, light-colored slacks and a striped Oxford shirt; drummer John Densmore has on striped slacks and a dark suit jacket. Remember suit jackets? Remember getting dressed up for a show? The kids in the audience do, and they hate it, and so they're not dressed up. The girls sprawled onstage are bare-legged and barefoot, with what look like friendship bracelets on their ankles. They're wearing dresses—a little dressy for the summer of the Summer of Love perhaps—but after all, the gig was in Northridge. With cops—though even the cops look relaxed. "They looked like ice cream men," Coke says of their two-tone summer shirts; they look like rent-a-cops. It was a very low-key show, he remembers: "It was really just a perfect set of music, without any goofing off by him. They were really very focused on the music. He didn't say a word to the audience."
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And they didn't say a word to him; they were too busy huffing. Coke points at the pictures, and there, a girl in front is holding a rag; everyone around her is kinda glassy-eyed. Coulda been ether, Coke says. Oh, and wait: Who's that skinny little teenager, second or third row back, with the short, parted hair, who looks like a boy? Is it legendary future groupie Pamela "I'm With the Band" Des Barres? Maybe.
"I think the little girl in the audience is her—but she denies it," says Coke, who's actually braced Des Barres on it. "But I think it's her. It looks like her."
Actually, it looks like a boy—but then time has ravaged us all. Less than four years after these pictures were taken, Morrison was dead in a bathtub in France. Here, after 20 years sleeping in someone's parents' garage, he looks ready for a second term. Just like Nixon.
"PRIME MOVER: JIM MORRISON PERFORMING, JULY 15, 1967" AT J. MOORE GALLERY, 317 MAIN ST., SEAL BEACH, (562) 430-8861. CALL FOR HOURS. THROUGH DEC. 16.